By Anniston Hart and Stefanie Wardlow
The Alzheimer’s Association is proud to introduce physician and neurologist Nilufer Ertekin-Taner, M.D., Ph.D. as the recipient for the 2022 Zenith Fellows Award Grant. The Zenith Award recognizes individuals and offers major support to those with a substantial personal commitment to the advancement of Alzheimer’s in addition to other forms of dementia research.
Dr. Ertekin-Taner began pursuing her successful career in the ever-expanding field of Alzheimer’s research at a young age. As a daughter of two neurologists, she discovered she was a curious person by nature as she dreamt of engaging in a profession that would benefit from her inquisitiveness. After completing medical school, Ertekin-Taner came to the United States to pursue a Ph.D. It was during this time that the physician came face-to-face with one of the most pressing health challenges across the globe: dementia.
“We don’t have a cure for it. It affects millions of individuals,” explained Ertekin-Taner. “I saw that as a very important problem to tackle and apply my curiosity to.”
She chose to earn her Ph.D. in Dr. Steve Youngkin’s laboratory where her research was primarily focused on Alzheimer’s. Since then, the neurologist has remained in the field where she interacts with dementia patients of all ages, some as young as their thirties while others are seniors. Many of her patients are cognizant of their illnesses, which she believes helps to empower these individuals to become their own advocates.
With a devoted mission to discover a cure for Alzheimer’s, physician and neurologist Nilufer Ertekin-Taner, M.D., Ph.D. “is a neurogeneticist focused on the complex genetics of Alzheimer’s disease (AD) and other neurodegenerative diseases.” Her team’s approach utilizes state-of-the-art technology to analyze tissue, such as blood samples and brain matter that is donated by those diagnosed with the illness. The neurologists then examine the genome of the tissue at a very fine scale while considering any images of the brain or cognitive information provided about the tissue’s donor. The sample from the individual with Alzheimer’s disease is then compared to an individual without the disease to pinpoint the differences between the two individuals and hopefully determine the cause of the disease. This allows neurologists to identify biomarkers from the genome, ultimately aiding their research in discovering a cure.
“The goal is, at the end of the day, to be able to identify and personalize drugs and drug cocktails for our patients,” said Ertekin-Taner.
She explains that using these biomarkers, drug cocktails can possibly be created to slow the disease in a patient, and hopefully one day cure Alzheimer’s altogether. Dr. Ertekin-Taner also stresses the importance of diversity in her studies. All communities, regardless of their ethnic differences, must engage in the research.
“Our research and our cohorts need to reflect what we see in our communities. It needs to have participation from all of us. It also means that we need to focus on, not only the molecular aspects of the disease which is crucial, but also the environment.”
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